2010 might well be another Year of the Sequel contender, with major titles like Final Fantasy XIII, StarCraft II, Mass Effect 2 and God of War III on the way. But even this early into 2010, we’ve already seen the release of hotly anticipated original titles like Darksiders and Bayonetta, both of which appear good enough to compete with the high quality rehash some other titles will provide. We are always keen to celebrate originality here at TGR, so here are some more of 2010’s noteworthy standalone games – in alphabetical order:
Note: at time of writing, this list originally included 10 entries, but I Am Alive was removed with news of its delay to at least April 2011.
Alan Wake (Xbox 360)
Developer: Remedy / Publisher: Microsoft
This psychological action thriller about a writer living in Northwestern America was first announced in 2005 and has been the under the spotlight of impossible expectations since. It was originally slotted for the PC, but that version has been shelved in favor of focusing on an Xbox 360 exclusive. Remedy, best known for their noirish Max Payne series, took cinematic inspiration from moody TV shows like Twin Peaks and Lost, as well as from renowned writer Stephen King. The result is a dark mysterious world in which the titular author, Alan Wake, finds his novels are becoming a waking nightmare. One particularly interesting element is how darkness gives an unsettling new life to ordinary objects and vehicles, which all sounds very disturbing. Judging from recent gameplay footage, innovative lighting and shadow techniques serve not only to provide atmosphere but also to further the plot and unique gameplay. In addition, Remedy’s notorious bullet-time mechanics as seen in Max Payne will also make a return, though primarily to provide dramatic tension rather than as a strategic maneuver. 360 owners will be hoping Alan Wake lives up to the hype when it releases in Q2.
Epic Mickey (Wii)
Developer: Junction Point / Publisher: Disney Interactive
In an oddly similar vein, veteran designer Warren Spector is helping bring Mickey Mouse’s world to an odd sort of life in a similar waking nightmare, albeit not quite as unnervingly. Primarily a traditional platformer but with some RPG elements, this 3D/2D hybrid for the Wii erases Mickey’s squeaky-clean image, returning to his forgotten mischievous roots. In fact, one of the antagonists in the game is an old black-and-white cartoon character and Mickey’s “half-brother”, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit – I doubt they’ll explain how a mouse and rabbit can be related. Spector is known for his immersive multi-path games like System Shock and Deus Ex, and this design carries over into the three different varieties of Mickey that can be played, depending on player preference, with a corresponding visual style for each. While collaborating with both Disney Animation Studios and Pixar Studios, Spector’s designers at Junction Point are giving their new bizarro cartoon world a bleak, almost steampunk feel, complete with robotic versions of well-known Disney characters. And since Disney’s main requirement is apparently that Mickey’s ears must be visible at all time, Spector’s design team are all but given free reign for Epic Mickey, due for release on September 16.
Heavy Rain (PS3)
Developer: Quantic Dream / Publisher: Sony
A “noir thriller adventure” from the creators of the game Indigo Prophecy, this PlayStation 3 exclusive features an epic storyline spanning a 2,000-page script and four different playable characters, all of whom are apparently expendable (though the game ends if they all die.) The player influences the course of the chapter-based storyline through timed event actions that frankly only make sense once you’ve tried the game yourself – having played the Indigo Prophecy demo, I know what they’re talking about. In this M-rated thriller, the player characters are all looking for a serial killer known as “The Origami Killer.” No, the killer doesn’t hate folded cranes, quite the contrary. He (or she) just leaves origami at the scene of each murder. To increase the immersion factor of the game, the various PlayStation Network trophy alerts are delayed appropriately. On a technical level, NVidia’s PhysX engine will be used for believable movement of clothing and hair, adding to the cinematic feel. Even the tech demo video demonstrates how much believable emotion is packed into each character’s expression, provided one doesn’t look too closely, thereby catching some of that “uncanny valley” quasi-realism that plagues most Robert Zemeckis movies. The game’s designer, David Cage, has boldly stated that Heavy Rain is “more than just a game”. When a simple proof-of-concept tech demo can make you hold your breath and then make you chuckle at the end, maybe it is.
The Last Guardian (PS3)
Developer: Team Ico / Publisher: Sony
From the makers of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, this action-adventure game is similar in both theme and style to its predecessors, though labeling it a sequel would be debatable. Shrewdly renamed from its original Japanese title ’Trico the Man-Eating Sea Eagle’, this game focuses on the relationship between a cel-shaded boy and his gargantuan pet, a cat-bird monster. The game’s puzzles reflect this and highlight the animal behavior’s AI and the boy’s efforts to interact with the creature in order to protect both it and himself. The game’s high-end physics engine allows for everything from massive destructive environments to the creature’s enormous feathers ruffling in the wind, with detail so astounding that to behold it makes The Neverending Story’s Falchior look like a sock puppet. Like its under-appreciated predecessors which have both gained a cult following, the gameplay is not your typical fare, making the player examine human-animal interaction in ways rarely seen. Unlike games like Black & White where the creatures are cartoonish manifestations of the player, the creature in The Last Guardian looks and acts like a living, breathing entity, with CGI would not look out of place in a blockbuster movie. I might have to get a PS3 just to get this game, as yet only dated for release in 2010.
Metro 2033 (Xbox 360, PC)
Developer: 4A Games / Publisher: THQ
In case you haven’t had enough disaster, this survival horror first-person shooter from Russia takes place in yet another post-apocalyptic world. Only this time it’s Moscow, and it’s years after a nuclear attack. In addition to taking place almost entirely underground in the Moscow metro system, the game is entirely HUD-free. You are literally seeing the world through the character’s eyes – eyes typically don’t feature a HUD unless one is a cyborg. If you want to know how much longer you have to breathe through your gas mask, you’ll have to check your watch. If you want to know where in the metro system you are, you’ll just have to pull out your old faded map and figure it out by the glow of your lighter. And if you want to know how much money you have, well… count your bullets. Because in post-apocalyptic Russia, bullets are the new bottle caps. Since the game is based on a famous Russian novel, a lot of the 10-12 hour game is heavily scripted. But within those scripted boundaries, how it’s played is open to interpretation; how much interpretation remains to be seen until the game surfaces this March.
ModNation Racers (PS3)
Developer: United Front Games / Publisher: Sony
This kart racing game is a bit of a palette cleanse on an otherwise dark list, where even the Disney title is foreboding. This so-called “High-tech Mario Kart” has a shinier, vinyl-like feel to it, like playing with toy cars. Borrowing a page from fellow PS3-exclusive LittleBigPlanet, ModNation Racers will focus largely on user-generated content and online sharing. In addition to vehicles being customizable, they will also be upgradeable as the player progresses, whether in multiplayer (2-player local and 12-player online) or the full single-player career. Having already been in beta in the US, an additional beta will soon begin in Europe, before its eventual release sometime in the spring. As this is United Front Games’ first title, they will have a lot to prove to an expectant audience of racing and modding aficionados alike.
Rage (PS3, Xbox 360, PC)
Developer: id / Publisher: Bethesda
This hybrid FPS/driving game will double as id’s unveiling of their new Tech5 graphics engine, which allows them to use highly detailed textures on various systems with a minimal performance hit due to technical details beyond the scope of this humble list – though the development team have clearly ruled out production on the Wii. Set in yet another post-apocalyptic world, one not unlike a Mad Max movie (or in this case a Fallout game), the game is both open-ended and story-driven, featuring the latest in first-person shooter gameplay as well as an arcadesque racing element featuring post-apocalyptic dune buggies. Despite id’s lineage, Rage is aiming for a teen rating, which means no bloodbaths a la Doom and the like – though it won’t be nearly as shiny as ModNation Racers. Nevertheless, good and evil in the world of Rage are mere shades of grey, not unlike the rocky terrain. Not unlike its release date either; it may or may not make 2010.
Star Trek Online (PC)
Developer: Cryptic Studios / Publisher: Atari
The first Star Trek massively multiplayer online game to date, this title is the only PC exclusive on the list, though Cryptic hasn’t completely ruled out the possibility of a future console port. Set in a post-apocalyptic w– oh wait, sorry… Set thirty years after the events of the movie Star Trek: Nemesis, STO puts players in the role of a captain, either for the Federation or the Klingon Empire, complete with a bridge crew of non-player characters. Players are, however, free to create their own custom race/species. Though not a sequel of any particular game, movie, or novel, STO’s timeline is firmly in place at a time when political relations have broken down between the Romulans, Klingons, and Federation over the course of several years. (So it’s unlikely to see Worf or his relatives on a Federation bridge.) Players can expect ship-to-ship combat as well as away missions, though the scope of these will be limited upon the game’s initial debut. Though starship-based MMO’s have not had much widespread success to date (despite modest followings for EVE Online and the better-known Star Wars Galaxies), hopes are high that Star Trek Online will benefit from Cryptic’s MMO expertise, as they were behind the fairly successful City of Heroes and City of Villians MMOs. Open beta has begun as of this writing, but the actual game won’t be released until the first week of February.
Super Meat Boy (Wii, PC)
Developer: Team Meat / Platforms: Steam, WiiWare
And now for something completely different. Coming this quarter of 2010, the Flash-based platformer Meat Boy will be getting a total console makeover. Created by indie designer Edmund McMillen, known for his work in games like Braid as well as Meat Boy’s thematic ancestor Gish (who instead of sentient meat was a blob of tar), Super Meat Boy sticks with the traditional story of a slab of sentient meat trying to save his girlfriend Bandage Girl from the evil Dr. Fetus (who is somehow both a doctor and a fetus). Fans of McMillen’s previous titles no doubt expect high levels of quirkiness and difficulty. Boasting hundreds of levels, a full level editor, and plenty of unlockable content (including 24 hidden playable characters), despite its relatively simple origins Super Meat Boy quite possibly may be the goriest game on the list, especially since the game’s predominant feature is frequent graphic deaths, complete with replay of said deaths upon level completion. Particularly noteworthy are the “retro levels” which transport Meat Boy to the equivalent of 8-bit gaming or even a four-color Game Boy, complete with strict life limits (as opposed to the game’s usual die-as-much-as-you-like approach).